“This wasn’t about converting him to become your firebrand evangelical. This wasn’t even about making him a stone-ribbed conservative. This was about hearing as the leader of America, as a leader in the free world, he had a fundamental understanding that there was a relationship between the reach and power and scope of government and others’ religious liberty and he satisfied that concern in this conversation today,” Blackwell said.
While many of them said they still weren’t ready to endorse him for president, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears to have sufficiently convinced a gathering of more than 900 conservative Christian leaders that he is the best choice for protecting religious freedom.
At a press conference after the private meeting in Times Square, New York, between Trump and the leaders billed “A Conversation About America’s Future with Donald Trump and Ben Carson,” Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, said religious freedom was the top concern among the group and Trump’s conversation on the issue was “genuine.”
“One of the things we didn’t mention and I thought I wanted to make sure we did, is that over 50,000 questions were submitted and by far the most important issue to everyone was religious freedom. And when that was communicated to Donald Trump, he said ‘in light of what I’m seeing it doesn’t surprise me at all’ and he really connected with that which is part of, I thought, how the conversation was a real genuine conversation,” said Shackleford, whose organization is the largest legal firm in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans.
“I think a lot of people outside don’t realize the battle, as a person who’s been doing religious freedom work for 27 years, I can tell you that what we’re seeing is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in this country and we’re literally in a battle for whether the whole concept is gonna be really given away. There are people who say now it gets in the way of issues and things that they want to do,” Shackleford said.
“It’s a cultural war somewhat and it’s so crazy now that we have nuns who have to defend their right to not give a sterilization to the nuns or abortion pills to the nuns. It’s gotten kind of crazy and I think people realize that. And this wasn’t just us, this was everybody who submitted questions. The same thing was coming up and as a group that has defended all faiths and will defend all faiths I can tell you its religious freedom for everyone or its religious freedom for no one,” he added.
The religious freedom discussion erupted at the press conference after the group of conservative leaders present were asked by a reporter to explain what religious freedom means for Muslims in America.
“Within the context of the American Constitution, religious liberty means that people have a right to practice their religion in the public square as long as it doesn’t become a violation of anybody else’s right to live or to in fact practice their religion,” replied Ken Blackwell, senior fellow for human rights and constitutional governance at the Family Research Council.
He explained that based on that understanding, and what Trump told the gathering in the meeting, he was satisfied that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee would be a much better defender of religious freedom than Democrat Hillary Clinton.